I know when I get the urge to start GMing again it is usually because I have seen something so awesome, so incredible and so inspiring that I immediately think: “Wow. I need to run a game that gets at that feeling!” Sometimes this inspiring moment comes from reading a book, sometimes from becoming engrossed in the story or the mechanic of a video game and sometimes from an exquisite movie or T.V. show, or a board game I played, or a card, or a picture that I saw on a website . . .

Ok. So I get inspired by a lot of things. I see something awesome happen and want to recreate that same feeling in the current game I’m running or even run a whole new game that gets that kind of feeling from my players. The feeling that is triggered by some forms of media can indeed be ported over into a gaming environment, but as with any transferal to a different kind of media, there will be changes.

Books are incredible inspiration sources for gaming, as is aptly proven with Lord of the Rings and the first editions of Chainmail and D&D. The rich and detailed landscapes and characters that are brought to life in a reader’s imagination can provide great stimulation for game ideas. Plots and subplots weave together to create islands of “Whoa, that was awesome” and lingering memories of cool moments that remain through the more mundane story-keeping aspects. Tabletop RPGS tend to flow in this same way. The plots are carefully detailed; the characters are integrated into it and inevitably change the outcome. Ask any author if their idea of the story has changed as they’ve gotten to know the characters better. They’ll back me up. Taken in this light, it is easy to incorporate inspired moments from favorite books into gaming sessions.

Tricky Wickets When Inspired By Books:

One snag in the way of this is the change of audience. Books have a single person as the audience for each copy of the book. The reader isn’t vying for spotlight or being distracted by other factors. Eyes meet page, continue story is a different environment than ears meet narration, meet other player’s narration, meet your own interpretation and action, meet rolling to determine outcome, etc. You get the idea. Another snag in getting at the same type of inspiration in a game is that books control the characters and NPCs and the plot points. If the hero needs to escape from a bond, he does. If the bad guy needs to monologue to inform the reader of the things they missed, he does. If the sidekick needs to mess up, but in a funny way, he does. This is definitely not the way it happens in a game.

Movies & T.V.
Movies and T.V. can be great for inspiring a game because they add the visual element to the story in much the same way as players and Game Masters add the visual elements in their imagination. Movies and T.V. are great at using visual cues to lead the audience. Certain lighting styles, certain aspects of characters being shown on the screen and certain angles for the cameras can all change the way a viewer thinks about the story being presented to them. There are some valuable lessons that can be learned from Movies and T.V. If you describe the single shaft of light that breeches the darkness of the cold and dry stone jail cell, you are working in much the same way as a T.V. camera panning down from the window, following the shaft of light down into the bottom of the stone cell to settle on the prisoner there. As the Game Master, you control the camera with your description and can help route this in the player’s minds.

Tricky Wickets With Inspiration From Movies & T.V.:
Getting the same kind of inspiring moments in a game that you get from a visual media can have its own problems. The first thing that must be overcome is the lack of the visual element and special effects. An image can cement an idea in someone’s mind in a way that words cannot. With an image, you also get the shared experience of the audience on the same starting point. Seeing an action hero make an incredible jump is shared between the group, while explaining it tends to give a different image in each mind.

Video Games
Video games are a prime source of inspiration for me and are one of the easier media to transfer into roleplaying and tabletop gaming. With a video game, it is already understood that the story and outcome is not entirely static. Turning left instead of right in a video game might cause a different ending cinematic or a longer path to the final goal. Also, video games and roleplaying games share many of the same elements: Detailed characters, interesting weapons, gaining of powers over the course of the story, overarching plots, central villains with hordes to fight against, etc. There is a lot of great ground for inspiration in video games because of this. Talking about a character’s fiery dual swords is one thing, seeing them portrayed in vibrant graphics on the screen, tracing the curve of the blades with your eyes and picking out the detail of the stances of a character as it is rendered can cement the wow factor of the fiery swords in a mind.

Tricky Wickets With Inspiration Generated By Video Games:
The inspiration that is gotten from video games is probably one of the easiest to render in a tabletop RPG style. However, it might feel a little lacking at the table because of the lack of the visual element. Running a game that is inspired by a video game can generate a lot of “You know how it looks in …” moments. If the video game isn’t something the group has shared then the Game Master has to find alternative ways to share their enthusiasm. Also, because of limited options in the Video Game, it is easier to move towards a unified goal. At the table, unlimited options and varied player responses to the game idea can lead the game in an entirely different direction that fist envisioned.

Tips For Transferring The Feelings of Inspiration
No matter where the inspiration for a game comes from, if you want to get an equivalent response from the players there have to be changes made. Looking at the type of media that inspired and asking how they got that inspiration out of you can help lead to methods that can be used to get it out of players. Was it the visual element or the special effects? Think of how you can incorporate things like that into the game. Do you want to visually create a huge explosion? Print a picture of one and drop it down onto the battle mat. Was the most inspiring thing from a book the intricate subplots in a book? Why did those grab you? Did you feel like a participant in them because you knew all the angles? Consider making each character an important cog in the puzzle, and let every player know more of the story than their characters do. It will make them feel more involved in the overarching story while leading them to empathize with their character.

Mostly I would say that picking out the elements that inspired you from an experience, and thinking about what made those work in the media is the crucial key. We will never get an exact, or even very close, experience in a game that we can from other media, but we can find the similarities and emphasize them. So, what do you find most inspiring in other media? What games or books or movies & TV. make you want to jump in and start GMing? What other techniques that mimic the aspects of other media have you employed? Its time for you to be my next source of inspiration.